A loss sometimes isn’t just a loss. The debacle that played out in Cincinnati on Monday night sent out a four-alarm fire under Steeler fans and coach Mike Tomlin. The normally even-keeled Tomlin looked like he was about to channel Herm Edwards in the post-game press conference.
A measly 25-percent third-down efficiency and more turnovers than touchdowns after two games will make any coach (and fan) ask what the offense is missing. Has Ben Roethlisberger lost his mojo? Are the Pitttsburgh Steelers just a Miller Time away from becoming a real offense? And is Todd Haley squeezing out all the talent on this team or is he squandering it? Let’s break it down:
1. All the injuries on offense have been impactful
Center Fernando Velasco was magnifico as a first-time starter with one week of practice. But Heath Miller’s return will be like Christmas has come early. The Steelers brought in tight end Matt Spaeth to cover while Miller and David Johnson recovered, but then Spaeth went out with an injury.
Johnson returned but had only six snaps against Cincinnati. This means Haley is using David Paulson more as a blocker than receiver and the results are not pretty. The Kelvin Beachum experiment was used for two whole snaps Monday, one of which was Paulson’s big catch that he then fumbled away.
Then there is the dismal running back situation. Rookie Le’Veon Bell gets hurt in preseason then free agent pickup LaRod Stephens-Howling goes down. Kevin Colbert tried to salvage the situation by adding Felix Jones but Jones is not as nimble or quick. Jones needs to stop trying to make so many cuts and just run. He still is outplaying Isaac Redman and will likely start Sunday night.
The need for Bell to be healthy is at a fever pitch, yet it isn’t as important as a roster change that will get a lot of press this week:
2. What did Markus Wheaton do to p*ss off Todd Haley?
No more Jerricho Cotchery on deep routes. Yes, he had a 31-yard reception and yes, everyone is blaming Ben for five of the six targets Cotchery couldn’t reach; however, rookie Marcus Wheaton was fast enough to reach at least three of those balls. Ben was definitely throwing to the space he thought Cotchery should have been in so is that really Ben’s fault?
I don’t think so. Wheaton, who had a whole five offensive snaps, is also capable of doing more once he has the ball, instead of the 31-year-old lifelong possession receiver.
3. Ben doesn’t do vanilla
The Steelers did employ more four-receiver sets this week to spread out the Bengals’ defense. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were on the outside, yet inexplicably Jones/Redman and Cotchery were in the slot positions. Why not move Sanders or A.B. into the slot much like the Bears did successfully with Brandon Marshall, and then mix it up by adding Moye and/or Wheaton? The vanilla formations continue to frustrate Roethlisberger and fuel the #firehaley battle cry.
I don’t think Haley is a worthless play-caller, although opening the game with three running plays was a depressing start. Haley must get his personnel schemes fixed. If Tomlin is right that the solution for the offense is on this team, then the coaches aren’t putting the players in the position to be the solution.